Monday, May 20, 2024

Meet Arizona Agriculture’s Kris Johnson


As a member of the Arizona Farm Bureau and enthusiastic advocate for Arizona agriculture, Kris Johnson shares her agribusiness story, which is quite unique and certainly important.

Having known her for many years, I have always admired Johnson’s tenacity, gentle and independent spirit and her unassuming humility. She’s also someone who can always be counted on. I think it’s part of the family legacy, the Geldmachers, that she comes from.

Her role, as what I’ll call a well tester, is critical.

“I feel it is very important for my customers to know that I am onsite measuring the wells and providing them with the most accurate data possible,” Johnson said. “Collection of data related to water is of utmost importance…from the day-to-day operation of the most efficient wells, to having accurate historical water records for use when selling your property.”

Finally, I’ll always celebrate Johnson’s work and especially the arsenal of tools in her toolbox. One of them — a weir for helping with measuring the flow of water — happens to be a device my dad, Pat Murphree, developed and patented decades ago. To hear her explain its use and how it’s a mainstay in all the tools she uses just makes my heart happy. When we sat down for a question-and-answer session, here is what she had to say:

Q: Tell us the history, heritage and status of your company Well Energy Testing.

A: While working in Maricopa County as the Team Leader of the Water Conservation Management Program (WCMP), a mobile irrigation lab, sponsored by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and two Arizona Natural Resource Conservation Districts, I saw an opportunity to enhance the scope of irrigation services we provided to growers in the area. I requested that all team members receive training on how to evaluate the efficiency of deep wells. Our program could then offer well testing assistance to the cooperators in our area. This service would primarily focus on measuring the output (volume) of water from the well, the energy (kwhr) required to produce that volume and the pumping water level (depth-to-water while pump is running). Having these three main pieces of information and a few other variables (Motor HP, static water level and operating pressure) the Overall Pumping Plant Efficiency could be calculated.

While working in Maricopa County as the team leader of the Water Conservation Management Program, Kris Johnson saw an opportunity to enhance the scope of irrigation services they provided to growers in the area.

 I worked for the WCMP for six years, then took a position as a cotton gin manager. While working at the gin, I saw an opportunity to capitalize on my well testing training and started working as an independent well tester for one local irrigation district on the weekends. I quickly saw that there was a need for a reliable and independent provider of this type of information, not only for irrigation districts but for farmers also. In 1998, I officially registered Well Energy Testing with the Corporation Commission. Originally, I worked with irrigation and electrical districts in the “West Valley.” Gradually, I have increased my customer base to include farmers and dairies in Maricopa, LaPaz, Yuma, Pinal, Pima and Santa Cruz counties. My customer base has recently grown to include cemeteries, small ranches and a few small utility providers.

 One of the main reasons the data I collect is important is because the owner of the water right (irrigation district, farmer, dairyman), if located within an Active Management Area, needs to file an annual water-use report for groundwater pumped and is required to pay a tax on every acre-foot of water withdrawn. The information I gather is directly used on the annual water withdrawal reports. A selling point for my business is that I am not an employee of the state, nor am I with a well drilling/repair company. I am solely an independent contractor providing the well owner with a one-time analysis of his or her well.

Q: When you reflect on your childhood, what are some things that stick out most in relation to agriculture and/or your agricultural roots?

A: Our family had a small cattle operation on the west end of Aravaipa Canyon. My dad had an off farm “day job” as a dentist in a small copper mining town, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. On weekends, my dad did ranch chores, and we all enjoyed the rural lifestyle. My two older siblings and I grew up doing chores: irrigating pastures, chopping weeds, building fences, installing PVC pipelines, planting pecan trees, caring for the trees, repairing equipment, raising home grown steers for 4H and FFA, riding, roping and branding — you know, ranch chores. We earned our blisters, bruises, cholla cactus spines, torn pants and sunburns. We grew up learning that when there was work to be done, it got done. We learned how to build relationships with neighbors and how to entertain yourself (we lived 30 miles from school). Given responsibilities, we were expected to help and work each day and taught to respect and care for our natural resources.

Q: Through the years, what’s been most important to you about your business and why?

A: The most important thing to me is to provide exceptional service to my customers. That includes being dependable, prompt, visible, accurate and reliable. I feel it is very important for my customers to know I am onsite measuring the wells and providing them with the most accurate data possible. Collection of data related to water is of utmost importance — from the day-to-day operation of the most efficient wells to having accurate historical water records for use when selling your property.

Q: Talk about your NRCD board member role and what you think have been the biggest advances in the past 20 years with the conservation districts?

A: I became familiar with conservation districts while working for NRCS in Nevada after graduating from college. I started my irrigation-related career as a conservation district employee working for the WCMP. Conservation districts play an important role in locally led natural resource conservation. Over the past 20 years, conservation districts have built a strong network of partners from state, federal and local government agencies as well as local and national NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Through grant funding, conservation districts support sustainable agriculture in Arizona by supporting producers through the implementation of conservation practices that use technology and science to improve production and conserve our natural resources.

Kris Johnson uses a weir to determine water flow and measurements.

Q: What do you love the most about the agriculture industry?

A: I love the fact that the people I work with — and for — produce my food and fiber. They are the backbone of this country. They are honest, hardworking people who want to be good stewards of the land.

Q: What are some ways you stay active in your community?

A: I was an active member of 4-H in Pinal County, and our daughter was also actively involved in Maricopa County 4-H and FFA. I had the most amazing 4-H leaders in Dudleyville. When I was given an opportunity to assist at our local club as the Livestock & Dairy Judging and Skill-a-Thon Coach, I was glad to do so. More than 100 kids from our 4-H club came through our house at some point during my six years as coach. To see the transformation of these “kids” into “young adults” is something I am very proud of. I am a member of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, where I have been a board member (in various positions) at the state level for more than 20 years.

Q: What is one fact or achievement that few people know about you?

A: Option 1: Anyone who knows me knows I can’t carry a tune, but I used to play the cello (in grade school) and really liked it. Option 2: I was honored to receive a CALCOT-Sietz Foundation scholarship as a senior in high school. My mom took me to the Phoenix airport to catch a ride on the CALCOT plane to the scholarship award ceremony in Bakersfield. Of note, CALCOT is a producer-owned marketing cooperative for cotton. Little did I know that a few six years later, several of the men on that plane would be my customers. Our agriculture community is small, but so large. The scholarship committee saw something in me years ago, and I am still honored today to have a business that supports the same people who supported me.

Q: In your opinion, how will the next generation of agriculturalists need to operate to be successful, especially in the agri-business space?

A: I have been very fortunate to operate a business where there is little to no competition. Finding a “niche” like this has worked well for me. I would encourage the next generation to find the “niche” that works for them. Additionally, this generation and the next will need to continue to adapt to all the enhancements and improvements in electronic technology. Whether it be related to farm equipment, software or mechanical improvements, computers, apps and digital technology will become an increasing part of our everyday lives.

Q: Please complete this sentence: “I am still running my agribusiness…”

A: I am still running my agribusiness because I enjoy what I do, and there is still a need for onsite well flow measurement. I’m fortunate to be able to set my own schedule and work with people who are stewards of the land. 

Julie Murphree is the Arizona Farm Bureau strategic communications director.

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